Food for the Spirit, 1971 - 1997

Basel 2017
Food for the Spirit

Thomas Erben Gallery

14 gelatin silver prints, artist’s binder, mixed media
In the summer of 1971, Adrian Piper performed Food for the Spirit in her New York loft. She sequestered herself away and spent her days reading Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781), doing yoga, reading, writing, and fasting. Her immersion in the Critique was so intense that at times she sensed she might be disappearing. To counteract this perception and to document her engagement with Kant, she periodically photographed herself standing in front of a mirror while chanting excerpts of the text that made her question her material existence. Food for the Spirit is a pivotal work in the history of conceptual art. Much of Piper’s work from this period employed formats and strategies of conceptual art while engaging social and gender disparities that were all but excluded from that discourse. Piper projected a sense of self onto the rational and serial forms of conceptual art, constituting a radical break with its characteristic detachment. Her repeated self-confrontation marks an effort to ground her understanding of Kantian transcendence in personal experience, while also introducing a glimmer of identity politics into the impersonal matrix of first-generation conceptual art.